Posted : 2017-02-17 17:28
Updated : 2017-03-13 13:43

'Meokbang' emerges as new way to relieve stress

A screen capture of the youtuber "Sunny-the-light-eater"

By Park Ji-won

The first thing office worker Park Su-hyeon, 29, does when she gets back to home is to turn on her computer and watch YouTube videos.

Park, who lives alone in Singapore, checks new videos from her favorite video lists every day, most of them are YouTubers showcasing themselves eating food. While watching, she eats dinner and relaxes. This lasts until she goes to bed.

Park is one of those who obsessively watch others eating online as part of their daily routine. These videos called "meokbang" have become a social phenomenon recently, penetrating into people's daily lives in Korea and many other countries. In those videos, the eaters consume large amounts of food at one time for between 30 minutes to 2 hours.
Surprisingly, this new internet content attracts worldwide fans. For example, the YouTuber "Sunny-the-light-eater," one of Park's favorite meokbang stars, runs her YouTube channel which has some 162,000 subscribers.

She eats a large amount of food almost every day in her video clips. On Feb. 6, she almost finished a large size of haemul-jjim, or braised seafood, a bowl of sujebi, or hand-torn noodle soup, a large size of pajeon, or green onion pancake, a bowl of fried rice, a full-sized mocha chocolate cake, a bottle of sparkling apple juice and a cup of coffee _ enough food for eight people in a two-hour video. There are thousands of meokbang stars called broadcasting jockeys (BJs) on YouTube or Korea's AfreecaTV; one of most popular Korean eater Banzz has some 1.4 million subscribers on his YouTube channel.

Regular meokbang fans find that watching the videos helps them relieve stress, like meditation. That's one of the strongest reasons to keep watching them, according to Park.

"Watching meokbang gives me some energy to move on to the next day. It is like background music in my house," she said.

Origin of meokbang

Meokbang was first made in Korea around 2009 along with the boom of Korean live video-sharing website AfreecaTV. The term is a combination of two Korean words for meokda (eat) and bangsong (broadcast). Sometimes it is used as a verb.

During a live-streaming video, BJs show what they eat and comment about it on camera. Most hosts eat large meals at one time, while some cook and eat smaller portions. The videos can last around five minutes, concentrating on only showing the highlights of the meal; while some can last as long as two hours, covering the full shooting from beginning to end.

Top meokbang hosts make handsome profits by earning tens of millions of won (tens of thousands of dollars) a month.

On AfreecaTV, fans of meokbang hosts tend to donate cyber money called "star balloons," which hosts can exchange for cash.

Recently, YouTube started a similar live-stream service called Super Chat so that people give tips. BJs also can get paid by getting sponsorships or uploading their videos online to video sites, such as YouTube.

Migration to new economy and meokbang

The rising popularity of meokbang also seems to be related to changes in the economic structure of Asia's No. 4 economy. Koreans considered eating together as a social virtue; most companies hold a regular dinner with coworkers.

However, recent trends are contradicting this tradition. Now an increasing number of people tend to eat alone, which sociologists attribute to the increase of single households. One-person households now account for around a quarter of all homes here.

Single households especially people in their 20s and 30s have become quite willing to pay as much as money as they can for their life, leading to a new term, "solo economy."

The country's food companies and restaurants care more about the eating-alone people whose number is jumping at a breakneck pace.

"Consumers prefer small apartments or studio apartments as well as ready-to-eat food," said Ju Won, an economist at Hyundai Research Institute.

Regardless of the recent rise of eating alone, analysts say doing-alone culture like eating alone doesn't mean that people hate connection to society as the craze over mukbang shows.

"New communities are emerging which we never experienced. This new generation seeks a different kind of social gathering. People can't live alone," sociology professor Youm Yoo-sik at Yonsei University said.

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